Reviewer:Joseph A. Marcus
September 5, 2010 Subject:
Outstanding reading by John MacKenzie
"The Shooting of Dan McGrew," by Robert W. Service. Published in "The Songs of a Sourdough" (1907).
Read for Librivox.org by John MacKenzie on April 30, 2006.
Just what are one's options when you wish to LISTEN to the poems you enjoy, or explore new ones?
Well, you can certainly read your favorite poems aloud to yourself, but then, even with practice you might (like me) still stink. Or, you can always go commercial: There are professional poetry recordings of variable quality sold by the obvious on-line companies, and while I personally feel (contra some professional critics) that there is ALWAYS considerable benefit to be gained by listening to an author — especially a great poet — read his own works, the supply of the latter is obviously limited. Nevertheless, if you're especially discerning and have a bottomless wallet, there are enough superb Shakespearean British actors reading enough wonderful poems to keep you occupied — and most likely, broke — for at least several years.
Then, thankfully, there is LibriVox. It's not surprising that the quality of performances here varies. What's perhaps counterintuitive is that some volunteers on this forum — whatever their respective professions and motivations for contributing — are far superior to some of the professional narrators who've managed to secure continuing paying gigs on Audible.com or elsewhere. John MacKenzie exemplifies the former, a legitimate LibriVox star.
A few months ago I downloaded his readings of seven Edna St. Vincent Millay poems; I thoroughly enjoyed them and included his tracks on a CD compilation of Millay poems that I burned for myself and which included among its narrators such luminaries as Helen Hayes and Millay herself. Last night, motivated by a desire to share with my brother "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" by Robert Service (1907) — we performed it together decades ago in High School — I searched the Internet and wound up downloading 3 renditions (while rejecting 4 more). One of these recordings is a newly published commercial audiobook with background music plus the increasingly standard (and sometimes distracting) "bells and whistles." (Perhaps Mr. MacKenzie can also simulate the sounds of an Alaskan blizzard?) The second recording is an indescribably delicious, 1948 recording by the inimitable Mr. Service himself. And the third? John MacKenzie's April 30, 2006 Librivox recording.
John, thank you so much for your superlative work. I am envious of your talent, but that doesn't stop me from luxuriating in it. You really manage to create the appropriate rhythm, atmosphere and tension in all your poetry readings.
One final point here, relevant to what I (as a new LibriVox member) wish to review: It seems that over her long career, the internationally esteemed poetry critic Helen Vendler http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_Vendler — the A. Kingsley Porter University Professor at Harvard University — has been taken to task by some colleagues for her paucity of negative critiques. ("There are so many inferior poets, and life is short. I will let others deal with THEM" would be a coarse paraphrase of Dr. Vendler's attitude.) Well, I want to take an analogous approach to publicly evaluating readers I encounter on LibriVox. I am overdue in expressing my appreciation to the truly outstanding readers I've listened to on on the Archive, and if I succeed in my resolution to write at least a few more reviews here and elsewhere in the future [this is my first one at this site], they will single out readers in Mr. MacKenzie's relatively exclusive league.